One of my favourite books as a child was The Secret Garden; the story of a hidden garden abandoned and unloved, like the children in the story, all of whom are transformed through the power of kindness and caring for others, as they bring the garden back to life. The book is captivating and magical, rejuvenating and ultimately uplifting. But, there is a real life secret garden that was similarly left to languish and crumble but which was rediscovered in the 1990s and has since been restored to its former glory; The Lost Gardens of Heligan.
The older and less well known sibling of The Eden Project, it is one of our favourite days out with the children when we are on holiday in Cornwall. It ticks every single box; farm animals; jungle trails; lost valleys; woodland walks with wild playgrounds; wildflower meadows; local produce; walled gardens; delicious cafe; gorgeous gift shop and nursery. There is something for everyone and we discover something new every time we go there. This Easter we found the old beehives and crossed the Burmese Rope Bridge for the first time.
There are pools and waterfalls fizzing with aquatic weed and invertebrates, where crocodiles could linger; luscious giant rhubarb leaves (giant gunnera) to shelter under should it rain; complex monkey puzzle trees and banana plantations; bamboo stalks thick as my little girl’s arm and taller ‘than a giant’; the unfurling prehistoric fern leaves; woodland trails, which are a cacophony of colour in spring with daffodils and bluebells take you past sculptures such as the mud maid and giant’s head which both merge and emerge from the landscape; views over the verdant meadows down the softly sloping fields to Mevagissey; ancient rhododendron visceral and ethereal, whose boughs sprawl languidly in all directions, originally brought back from Sikkim in India; the high walled gardens, row upon row of heritage vegetables and flowers with the old glass houses and hot houses, the potting shed and melon yard. They have a huge task force keeping the weeds at bay and it is maintained as it would have been back in the early 1900s, with a focus on wildlife and traditional crafts and original gardenesque style.
But best of all during the holidays they hold brilliant themed events for children. In the May half term they usually hold a ‘wild week’ where the children get to follow ribbon trails, learn to light fires, toast marshmallows, face paint, and complete the assault course. Over Easter this year, their theme was ‘The Scarecrow’s Wedding’ – following a treasure trail with activities and free chocolate at the end. It’s good old fashioned out door fun, memories are made and the children run amok until we have to carry them home tired and smelling of fresh air and woodsmoke. They also have a full range of adult events, from feast nights to theatre productions, tours and talks; one day I will get to one of them.
I know, I am risk of turning into my mother by recommending a garden for a days excursion and I have hardly done it justice here, but trust me. It’s more than just a garden; its a whole world, and by getting a little lost in it, you might just end up found.